Classified Moto creates rad, one-of-a-kind, repurposed motorcycles from old-school 70s and 80s cruisers. After 11 years hyping someone else’s product in the ad business, John Ryland and his wife Betsy are energetic about pursuing a personal passion. The bike shop, which also specializes in lamps crafted from spare bike parts and other custom goods, has gained traction from the likes of Jay Leno and Battlestar Glactica’s Katee Sackoff—both whom the crew will be paying visit later this month. John and Betsy kindly welcomed our team into their shop as the location of our July Short Run Shirting photo shoot. We had the chance to talk with John about how his interest in motorcycles became his career, what he loves most about running the shop, and future plans for Classified Moto.
How did you become interested in motorcycles?
One of my friends in advertising was going on a job out of town for about a month, so he left me his motorcycle to get my license. I had always been into cars and automotive projects, but I had never ridden a motorcycle, or really cared about motorcycles before. It was in the middle of winter –it was freezing, but I rode it everywhere. I just loved it. I got a motorcycle and started modifying it like I had always done to my cars. Somebody posted a bike I had made online somewhere and people started asking about it, so I started helping other people work on their bikes.
Can you describe your process a bit?
I started out modifying my own bike- this bike I got for $400 that was in terrible shape. We started noticing that there are so many bikes on Craigslist for a few hundred bucks that aren’t cool at all, but they make for a great base, so you can put your money and time into making them cool.
A lot of the bikes we find are kind of cheap and nerdy, and we make them into something that people don’t really recognize when we’re finished. Usually the frame and motor is from one particular bike- so we’re not making frames or custom bikes from the ground up. Our thing is taking old bikes and putting modern suspension on them. Everything is pretty much recycled or repurposed on the bike; forks from one bike that we found on eBay or in the classified ads.
How did modifying bikes become your work?
We started a blog about what we were doing in the garage and it really started taking off. I started building bikes for people I worked with. Adam Ewing, my photographer friend, started shooting them- he makes them look so beautiful. So we had all of this good photography for them and a really cool website, and people from Europe, Asia, everywhere, started following our work. Having been in advertising for 11 years, I knew sort of how to get the word out…but I was really surprised how it took off. Then we started making these lamps out of spare parts and that kind of had it’s own life too with design blogs and things like that. People started picking those up and we’ve sold now, probably 400 of them, along with other custom pieces.
What’s your favorite custom piece that you’ve built?
My favorite thing that we’ve built was this table built out of old fork tubes and other moto suspension parts. We really had to engineer it to see how it was going to sit upright. It has a copper top on it…it turned out really pretty. We built it for a tattoo shop up in Maryland that commissioned it. When it was done, we all sat around it and had a beer on the table that we made.
A lot of your bikes have pops of color that make them really interesting- is that a conscious design choice?
The forks usually come off of sport bikes, the ones that you see guys doing wheelies on with plastic all of over them, but the forks are usually this gold color. And I actually like the gold color. Some people think it’s too flashy, but the way I see it is if we’re going to go through all the trouble to put this modern front end on a bike, then we don’t want to hide the fact that we did it. Everything is usually black and metal, so it’s nice to have a little pop of color on there. On one bike, we had this ugly red tank that had been painted a bunch of times and we stripped everything except a stripe of the red. We like leaving a piece of the old bike on there somehow- it adds a little character.
Where do you see the shop heading in the future?
Our ultimate goal is to open a shop that’s almost like a gallery space with the bikes in there, and a coffee shop where you can see the bikes being built… sort of art directed in this little studio with all of the ugly stuff going on out back. Vintage, leather jackets, t-shirts, screen prints, kind of a design-oriented thing because all of my friends are in that field- design, advertising, filmmaking. We want to find a place that’s just right because I want it to be approachable for anyone. Sometimes motorcycles are kind of intimidating for people, but we’re trying to appeal to people who don’t necessarily ride.
What do you love most about your work?
The creativity. I worked in advertising for 10-11 years, and it is a very creative industry, but it’s a totally different kind of creativity. There are so many hands in it when you’re working in advertising, so it’s hard to get something pure. And with this, it’s very honest, because you do something and put it out there and people either like it or they don’t- but you don’t have to spin it in any way. You know instantly if you did a good job or not. I just like being able to spend my day doing something creative and ending up with something you can ride or hold, or put on a desk.